Scholarship > WCMS > WCMS Findings
Teaching and Learning with Web Course Management Systems
Narratives and Data: Table of Contents
Here, we address the initial Web Course Management Case Study questions and
proposal goal as they were presented in the request for proposals. The original
questions asked were:
- As regards teaching and learning, what are the advantages and disadvantages of each Web course management system (WCMS)?
- How do the course management systems change, if in fact they do, the teaching and learning process?
The overall goal of the case study was to determine the types of support that
should be provided to facilitate university-wide access to these tools.
Advantages and disadvantages, as regards teaching and learning
There are several advantages to teaching with a WCMS, including the
organizational structures for presentation of course content and course
materials, and facilitation of communication activities. For example, a WCMS
- Labeled areas for dissemination of information
- An easy-to-use set of tools
- Archives of communication activity
- Enhanced student technology skills through access to the system
Among the labeled areas in all of the WCM systems utilized in this case study
was an area or space for posting assignments and announcements. These designated
areas focused a student's search for necessary information. An authoring
function was also available in all systems used in the case study. Authoring
capabilities facilitated the addition of course materials without the user
having advanced knowledge of HTML.
Ease of transferring files was also an organizational advantage. For example,
the distribution of lecture notes as Word documents was possible. The eCollege
application also facilitated viewing Power Point slides and streaming digitized
audio and video files, features not available in Blackboard at the time.
Communication activity other than e-mail, a distribution function in all the
systems used in the case study, was accomplished via threaded discussion and
chat. Threaded discussion functions made available a written record of
course-related communication activity. Although the systems contained the same
functions to facilitate communication, the features were represented differently
in each WCMS. For example, Blackboard and WebCT devote an area to communication
tools, that is, all the tools for communication are located in the same area.
Tools for communication in eCollege are in separate locations; threaded
discussions in eCollege are embedded under a module or lesson, with topics
embedded in pull-down selection lists. Unlike Blackboard, eCollege does not
allow a student to assign a topic title to discussions. Chat message archives
in eCollege and WebCT also provided students with an opportunity to review
message contributions of fellow classmates engaged in ongoing conversations
outside of class
Two other organizational functions considered very useful were uniquely a part
of eCollege. The document-sharing feature in eCollege allowed students to work
on the same file, or exchange versions of critiqued course work and set file
access permissions. Finally, eCollege's Webliography provided an option for
live annotated links on the same Web page.
The systems in this study provided advantages to faculty by minimizing classroom
constraints related to time and general course management. In a WCMS, an
instructor has an area to create course lessons and control student viewing
until a desired time. All of the systems allowed course sections to be
time-access controlled, which was especially advantageous for preventing
students from having access to a quiz until a later time. Several faculty
members noted that students considered access to on-line quizzes and a grade
book among the best features of the systems. As a course management feature,
faculty members could view system data on student usage; the log of system use
per student was available to the instructor.
As concerns student learning, WCMS use appears to enhance students' computer
skills and possibly their written communication skills. General use of the
systems provided practice in using computer skills. To exchange information,
which often required faculty encouragement, it was essential that students apply
a written format of communication, a form of communication that may not have
been compatible with some students' learning styles.
Disadvantages of a WCMS were related to social, time management, and software
design issues. Some students felt that the use of a WCMS created a sense of
isolation. Often, faculty had to encourage students to exchange information.
Using a WCMS requires students to apply communication skills in a written
format, which for some students was at least a short-term disadvantage. Over
time, however, the written format appears to have helped improve students'
communication and writing skills.
Faculty and students had to consider how they managed their time. Time had to be
allocated to read the discussions and review assignments. Students had to set
aside time out of class to access the system and perform assigned tasks. Faculty
needed to update and produce materials for the course and place them on-line.
The design of a system can also pose disadvantages. For example, WebCT
administration and authoring panels have several levels and were not
particularly user friendly; an instructor could get 'lost' in the system. Most
of the students initially felt the systems were easy to use. However,
post-survey responses indicated that students did not feel the same way at the
end of the semester. Several students suggested that a periodic review of how
to use the system should be provided.
Changes to the teaching and learning process
The use of WCMS changed the teaching and learning process most profoundly by
creating a history of the process. Because so much of what happens through the
use of the WCMS can be captured and archived, the process is always "on
record." "On record" refers to the public (albeit limited to students in the
course) nature of forum style message systems, as well as retrieval capabilities
for items placed on a WCMS. Because an asynchronous communication process is
not subject to traditional time constraints, an instructor can look for trends
in student progress. Also, a faculty member may view the course as a whole and
look for instructional gaps to be addressed in future revisions. For example,
many of the case study participants now have an interest in enhancement of
Some faculty members involved in the case study observed that students began to
form their own on-line learning communities where intellectual and academic
discussions occurred. A review of student contributions allowed faculty members
to observe student communication. (Prior to the use of a WCMS, faculty had
little evidence of student-self regulation as demonstrated by expanded
discussion, topic selection and topic relevance to students as revealed in the
messages; which is useful information for constructing a course. Using a WCMS
required that a faculty member reassess traditional delivery of learning
experiences and convert or redesign materials for on-line presentation. Most
faculty members made allowances for self-regulation of student study more so
than before. One faculty member noted that the change in the class format
"Éallowed the students to teach each other more than that of other classes."
Students who taught other students stated they enjoyed the course more than
other courses because of their active input into the teaching process. A WCMS
changes the teaching and learning process by allowing students and faculty
members to take a more active part in the presentation of information and
teaching each other under the guidance of the instructor.
Obviously, a viable network system with minimum downtime is a must for faculty
and students who use WCMS. Faculty and student knowledge of both the network
capabilities and the process for network change requests are important factors
in successful use of the WCMS and, in particular, in making informed course
development decisions. Additionally, a walk-in help desk for students, ideally
in each student computer lab, would allow just-in-time assistance in the use of
the systems. Such a support system would be helpful and appropriate for faculty
too. For successful university-wide access, it is necessary that the user
community be well informed of the network's capabilities and limits as well as
how to access application support.
Faculty often need to know the details of software application manipulations of
system features. To support such inquiries, an advanced workshop in the use of
WCMS that extends beyond the basics seems appropriate.
Although the case study supported faculty in the summer to create the courses
on-line, many faculty members did not realize the level of detail necessary in
placing content on-line. Therefore during the semester, several faculty members
sought on-going assistance for development activities. It would be highly
advantageous, therefore, for faculty to first create a course design plan and to
also have an assigned staff or student technology and pedagogical assistant(s)
to facilitate the development of on-line course materials. In summary,
university support services and faculty development are critical aspects of the
successful use of WCMS.
This study has been particularly helpful in defining the scope of issues related
to the implementation, support, and use of Web course management systems. The
scope ranges from the technical implementation of a system to course design and
development, faculty and student use, and evaluation of this use. This case
study has provided us with at least a glimpse of the possible answers to our
original questions. We certainly see the need to replicate and enhance this
study, with even greater attention to the student learning outcomes that result
from faculty and student use of a Web course management system.
We hope to launch a second case study in the very near future. We hope you'll
visit our site again. If in the meantime you have any questions, please do not
hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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